The award-winning director credits Cheryl, his high school sweetheart, for keeping them (the family) a close-knit clan.
"She is awesome on a number of levels," he explains. "When it comes to logistics, she's just great at it. She believes that we need to be together as much as we possibly can."
That means bringing his family along for shoots. "When we go away on a film, we literally pack up and move," Howard says. "And the kids have gotten to be very good at that, too."
When he's not directing, Howard and his family reside in Connecticut -- far from the Hollywood hubbub.
With a house full of children, Howard has learned some important parenting lessons over the years. One of those is to pay attention to his kids as individuals.
"They're all different," he says. "And they need to be dealt with differently. Sometimes that's frustrating for them because they say, 'How come they get to do that and I don't?' And you have to say, 'Well, they're handling responsibility really well, and you're not.'"
Howard also stresses the need for strictness and resisting the urge to cave in to his children. He praises his wife's ability "to really stay focused enough to do the hard things like say no, and provide discipline and stick with it."
"That's much harder than saying, 'Oh, OK, I understand how you feel. Here you go,'" Howard says. "At the end of the day, I'm not sure that's really doing the kids the service that they deserve."
QUOTES ON HIS MOVIES, AND CHILD STARDOM
Sunday March 21, 1999
I am not Richie Cunningham!
With EDtv, director Ron Howard explores the price of fame - is it any wonder?
Ron Howard loved growing up on TV with Andy Griffith, and his six-year stint on Happy Days provided some of the happiest days of his youth.
He just wishes people would put that part of his life in perspective.
"Much too often when people do come up to me, they talk about The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days and even American Graffiti.
"Of course, it's gratifying to realize those projects have endured so long but I just wish they wanted to discuss my work behind the camera," explains Howard.
Over the past 22 years, Howard has become one of Hollywood's most respected and powerful producers and directors. His films include such box-office hits as Splash, Cocoon, Nightshift, Parenthood, Backdraft and the critically acclaimed Apollo 13.
Through his film company, Imagine Pictures, Howard has produced such films as Kindergarten Cop, Housesitter, My Girl, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, Mercury Rising and the TV series, From the Earth to the Moon.
"About 10 years ago, I made a conscious decision not to act any more. I've turned down some plum roles as a result because I don't feel as much responsibility for my acting achievements as I do for my directing.
"I want to be recognized as a director."
It's for this reason that Howard is still crushed that Apollo 13 received multiple Academy Award nominations but his name was not included in the best director category.
"I can't even begin to pretend that it didn't hurt to be overlooked, especially since I won the Directors Guild award. It was as if the academy still sees me as Opie or Richie Cunningham.
"That's the double-edged sword of fame. Once you set yourself up as a product, which is what I was on The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days, people want you to take it as far as you can.
"Pretty soon it becomes your life instead of a role."
It's sentiments like these which drew Howard to his newest project EDtv, opening Friday.
It's the story of an ordinary guy named Ed (Matthew McConaughey) who allows a cable TV station to film every waking (and sometimes sleeping) moment of his life for an indefinite period of time.
Howard knows his EDtv is going to be compared to The Truman Show and he's naturally saddened.
"Of course I would have preferred to be the first of these films out but I refused to rush EDtv. I considered scuttling the film except that I felt we were different enough that it shouldn't matter."
Howard says that The Truman Show "is like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. Jim Carrey's character is a victim.
"EDtv is a contemporary comedy because Matthew's character grabs at his opportunity for celebrity.
"Fame is the new American Dream. It's why people are willing to go on talk shows and bare their souls. People want their moment of fame. In fact, they even lust after it."
The irony of his own experience doesn't escape Howard. He was four years old when he had a cameo in the film The Journey and before he was six, he had starred on Broadway in The Music Man and had begun his term as Andy Griffith's son Opie.
"I've had celebrity since I was a child and there's no question there have been periods where I've absolutely loved the attention.
"When I was five, my dad taught me how to write my name because he said printing in autograph books wasn't good enough.
"EDtv is not a diatribe against fame and celebrity. It's just a warning. To become a public person, you have to give up so much of your private life."
EDtv stars four people who learned this rule very quickly.
Simply by agreeing to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine to hype his film A Time to Kill, McConaughey became an overnight sensation and a Hollywood hunk.
Jenna Elfman gained instant fame as the kooky heroine of TV's Dharma & Greg as did Woody Harrelson from his term as the bartender on Cheers.
And few would minimize the effect that declaring her homosexuality and going public with her relationship with Anne Heche had on Ellen DeGeneres' career.
"We all talked at length about how fame had impacted on each of our lives and there was definitely some bitterness on everyone's part.
"More on some than on others," says Howard.
"We concluded that, for guys, fame and sex go hand-in-hand. It proves to be quite an aphrodisiac. The trick is avoiding the temptation to exploit the opportunities."
Howard and his wife Cheryl were high-school sweethearts. They have four children.
"My wife Cheryl is still the greatest influence on my career. We talk over everything from material to casting.
"I think it's because of her that I have been able to cope as well as I think I have with my celebrity."
November 22, 1996
Ron Howard's career more like king's 'Ransom'
He claims not to be an adventuresome person, and insists he doesn't possess a "performer's personality."
Then how in the world did Ron Howard parlay an enviably steady childhood acting career into becoming one of the most bankable filmmakers of the last decade?
At 42, a tender age considering his resume, even Howard is pressed for an answer.
Dressed in black jeans, a gray buttoned-down shirt and a camel-colored blazer, Howard crosses his legs and sips some hot tea with lemon. His smooth, fair skin and blue eyes and strawberry-blond hair help capture his youthful appearance.
"I feel like that kid who grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, and suddenly finds himself playing centerfield in the World Series there," he says, reflecting on the course of his career.
"I'm always pinching myself," Howard confesses with the wide-eyed amazement of Opie Taylor. "Not to be too corny," he adds with the guileless smile of Richie Cunningham. "But I'm getting to do what I want to do now," he declares with the self-assured gaze of a Director's Guild award winner for last year's "Apollo 13."
His resume reads like a road map of the movie industry. As a child, he co-starred in "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Happy Days" on television, and then later began appearing in such films as "American Graffiti" and "The Shootist." By the time he was 22, Howard had worked with John Wayne, Richard Dreyfuss, Lauren Becall, Vincente Minnelli, George Lucas, Jimmy Stewart and Lee Marvin to name just a few.
It's not every director who can cite his latest project as an extension of advice directly dispensed by Henry Fonda.
"Ransom," which opened to a rousing box office of $35 million for the weekend and stars Mel Gibson and Rene Russo, is a departure for the director largely associated with feel-good films. It's a thriller that pits millionaire Gibson against a band of sinister, grungy kidnapers and has been described as dark and brooding.
It is also the bloodiest Ron Howard film to date.
Fonda once told him that to continue to grow creatively, he should put his career at risk every two years. "Trying something that wasn't safe that could lead to some kind of embarrassment or failure," Howard says.
Of "Ransom," he says, "I've never done anything this intense. It's a suspense film. I'm not a suspense director."
While "Ransom" is not likely to embarrass Howard, he has had some off-camera trepidations in his career.
As a 6-year-old, already veteran actor, Howard was unable to cry on cue while rehearsing a production he will not name. The director said "he was going to have to beat me into crying," Howard recalls. "He didn't and I didn't think he really would. My dad was there and I figured my dad would punch him out if he tried something."
Consequently, Howard says he takes great pains to instill some fundamentals in the child actors with whom he works rather than just go for the immediately desired effect.
"I try to explain what is relatable to them about the scene and help them understand what the character's thinking," he says.
The technique seems to work with Brawley Nolte (son of actor Nick Nolte) in a scene in "Ransom" in which he's required to look so scared that he actually wets himself.
Howard's own four children (the oldest is 15) are "really frustrated that I won't let them be child actors," the director says amiably, explaining that he and his wife, Cheryl, can't commit the time they feel would be necessary. The family lives in Connecticut.
"For one of us to go sit on the set and supervise just one of our kids for weeks or months at a time, I think would be too costly on the other three."
His own parents were actors and his father, Rance, was also a theatrical director and voice coach.
Howard speaks glowingly of his parents and often credits his father for offering effective creative advice, especially before one early, daunting directing experience.
In 1981, Howard directed Bette Davis in the television movie "Skyward." He was 26. She was 73 and still proud and ambitious enough to want to do good work. Just don't run a lame, insipid set, his father advised, and the actors and crew will respect you.
"She used to refer to me as 'Mr. Howard,' a little bit sarcastically," he says, clearly amused at the recollection. "And I kept saying, 'Please Miss Davis, call me Ron.' And she would say, 'I'll call you Mr. Howard until I decide whether or not I like you.'
"The first time I went up to give her some direction she acted very startled. And she said, loud enough for the crew to hear, 'What of any consequence could this child possibly have to say to me?' I kind of laughed along with the crew, nervously."
The first day continued like that with "some sticky moments," he says.
Thinking back, Howard says the experience helped him be more confident while handling an entire cast of Hollywood heavies in "Cocoon," four years later.
Always, he's thinking back on Fonda's advice.
"I'm not a very adventuresome person," Howard reiterates. "But as Hank said, taking risks is important. It's a fine line because you don't want to be suicidal, but it's important to keep testing."
As for Bette Davis, after the first day's shoot was finished on "Skyward," she turned to Howard as she was leaving and pointedly said, "Good night, Ron."
Then she patted him on the derriere.
November 6, 1996
Kid actors like trained animals: Howard
Ron Howard was a TV star at six, but he wouldn't wish the same for kids today.
Howard, who played Opie on The Andy Griffith Show during its eight-year run, said he tries to discourage parents from putting their children in the business.
"I'm one of the few child actors who got through it without a lot of anger and resentment," the director of Ransom said in the Sunday issue of Parade magazine. "Most child actors aren't taught how to act. They're sort of taught how to perform. They're like trained animals."
As a child, Howard also made guest appearances on Dr. Kildare and The Fugitive. He said he was comfortable with acting and his dad gave him a lot of confidence.
"The things I learned as a child I was able to reapply as an adult," Howard said, "whereas a lot of child actors have to unlearn the cutesy kid tricks that sabotage them later when they're trying to operate on a more adult level."
June 6, 1996
Ron Howard movie company loses by default in script laws. Ron Howard's production company has lost a copyright infringement lawsuit over the film "Backdraft," but not because a court says the script was a rip-off.
A federal judge ruled that lawyers for Imagine Films Entertainment, Inc., lost by default because they deliberately withholding documents in the case.
"The record amply supports a finding of willful and bad faith misconduct," U.S. District Judge William Skretny wrote in his decision filed Wednesday.
The ruling makes winners of John Zoll and Dr. Terrence Burns, current and former Buffalo firefighters who claim there are more than 100 similarities between the movie and a script their agent had shown to Imagine Films.
But a lawyer for Imagine Films said the ruling will be appealed and the firefighters' ideas were not stolen.
"Ron Howard is one of the most respected and successful directors in Hollywood, and I don't think he would stoop to stealing ideas from two unknown writers," said attorney Kenneth Africano.
Jeremiah McCarthy, who represents Zoll and Burns, said Thursday that the amount of damages will be determined at a separate, as yet unscheduled trial.
It's likely Zoll and Burns will seek millions of dollars from Howard's company, MCA, Inc. and Universal City Studios, Inc., which are all named in the suit. Howard is not named as a defendant individually.
"Backdraft," which featured Kurt Russell and Robert De Niro as Chicago firefighters, made $147 million in its first year of release in 1991, and continues to earn money on television and in video sales and rentals.
Skretny said the defense engaged in three years of foot-dragging by not handing over the film's financial statements which Foschio had ordered released.
"What we were trying to get at was a complete and accurate picture of the film's financial history," McCarthy said.